As a prominent Quaker leader and the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn is an important figure in religious and political history. He worked to bring religious freedom and tolerance to his native Britain, and when Pennsylvania was established as the last of the restoration colonies, he sought to graft these principles to the American experience. The colony's constitution, which Penn helped to compose, served as a model for the U.S. Constitution. Pennsylvania's democratic heritage was strengthened further when Penn made a peace treaty with the Native Americans who lived in the colony. Voltaire, a French philosopher, noted that the document was the only treaty with Native Americans that was "never sworn to and never broken." Neither the Quakers nor the Native Americans saw any need to swear to their word. Penn's vision extended to the international realm. More than two hundred years ahead of his time, he advocated a league of nations to maintain world peace.
Penn's life makes an exciting story. Born into the British establishment, Penn alienated his father, a famous admiral, by joining the Quaker movement, whose members were persecuted in seventeenth-century England. Penn was imprisoned several times for his religious beliefs. He was also incarcerated for failing to pay off a debt that was incurred to finance his colony. Despite his notoriety as a spokesman for a persecuted minority, Penn remained on cordial terms with King Charles II, who granted him...
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